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Since it is very overwhelming and doubtfully necessary, is it a good idea to depend on printers (RGB to CMYK) auto-conversions to produce usual printing needs? (When Spot Coloring isn't an option for being expensive)

What I know is that CMYK printers will almost certainly produce different results. Even the same printer will produce different results under different temperatures and humidity - which only can be avoided through expensive calibrations which I am certainly not up for.

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So I have two options:

1- Coding my Ai Files with two versions of CMYK & RGB: (which is troublesome and tedious - especially that I need a lot of testing to match and calibrate), and use each one for its purposes separately, which means also that I'll have to reproduce and re-edit each version after any further editing to the other one. I am saying all this because I don't know a way to save swatches in both RGB & CMYK with custom codes and pick one of them whenever I want, especially that changing the document color mode doesn't work both ways (if I use RGB then convert it to CMYK then changing back from CMYK to RBG won't recollect the original data, as per my knowledge).

Will this option actually give me any advantage? More specifically, will printing a CMYK document with a normal printing be SIGNIFICANTLY more consistent than printing RGB and see how it works?

2- To color code only with RGB: This way the hassle will versions and conversions will be much much less, but I don't want to print a business card for me, and one year later when someone new joins I print another one (maybe from another press) and the results are hilariously and pathetically different (I am good with subtle not-so-noticeable differences for that matter). Does RGB-t-CMYK conversions work the same way even? i.e. if I convert RGB-to-CMYK using different Operating Systems, different software, different printers, hell... even with all being the same but with a different Ai update, will I get the exact same conversion with the exact same codes? and does that matter greatly?

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P.S. I am using mainly very vibrant neon colors for online use mainly, which cannot be reflected accurately anyway in CMYK, and when I tried to print using RGB mode, the results were actually much better than printing with CMYK mode, but I am afraid that won't always be the case. my printing activities are limited currently to printing letterheads locally and printing business cards from local press printing companies, but maybe in the future the logo will be printed on fliers, posters, and such.

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    Its a question of avoiding mistakes and question of control. So if you design in rgb then you might pick colors that cant be printed. So sticking to cmyk gamut makes you do saner designs up front. This can be good for beginners. But yes you could use cmyk sliders in a rgb document. Second cmyk has much more variation in black than rgb. So using a cmyk documents makes matching art and text easier also allows you to have more variation in dark colors. Third you can estimate when your items get rasterized and thus blurry, again better for text.
    – joojaa
    Sep 24, 2022 at 6:14
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    It depends entirely on what kind of printing you are talking about. Different printing processes have different requirements. For digital home/office printing RGB is usually the only option as most of these printers don't support printing CMYK image files. For commercial printing, ask your printer. Some print processes that require separations to be made, such as lithography or screen printing, absolutely will need CMYK for full colour work, or defined spot colours for non-CMYK colour jobs.
    – Billy Kerr
    Sep 24, 2022 at 9:36
  • Conversion from RGB to CMYK is complex and full of variables. Done incorrectly it can do more damage than good. Sep 25, 2022 at 15:27
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    It's not worth creating artwork in RGB if it is meant for printing. Seriously. RGB is not worth it. Don't convert. Design in CMYK. It is not worth creating artwork in CMYK if it is meant for web. Don't convert. Design in RGB. If you will print it don't work in RGB ever, even in the beginning.
    – slebetman
    Sep 25, 2022 at 17:29
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    Printers don't necessarily operate on CYMK. High-end inkjet printers could use as many as 12 colors, which makes them capable of printing more colors than CYMK. Another problem of CYMK is, you (and the design software) don't know what exactly C Y M and K (and other) inks the printer actually uses, so there's no way to preview the printed result in the design software even if you design in CYMK. Sep 26, 2022 at 13:47

4 Answers 4

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The RGB gamut is larger than the CMYK gamut.

It is exceptionally possible to have RGB colors which can not be reproduced via CMYK inks.

Auto-conversion will use a "best guess". These guesses are generally fairly accurate... but not always.

It's a matter of preference as to how much control you want over your colors - particularly the CMYK colors. If you aren't overly finicky about color, then auto-conversion may be fine for you.

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IMHO, the only moment necessary is when the provider needs it.

And this is almost only the case when you have a "prepress" process, for example, sheetfed offset lithography, separations for serigraphy, etc, and in some cases, large digital banners, but the provider should inform you.

Not in office printers, nor in a normal digital print bureau.

Ask your provider. If he does not know, most likely you do not need CMYK. If they actually need it and know what they are talking about, he can even tell you the recommended CMYK profile, and maximum TAC.

One option with digital print providers is first to print a small sample of a color chart, one in RGB and the other in CMY.


(If printers do it anyway!)

And no, not every provider will do the conversion for you in the cases I mentioned. They need you to specifically send CMYK channels. For example, you send an RGB file with text in black. The conversion will produce a combination of CMY+K which you do not want. The file must be in CMYK.

Remember. There are several CMYK profiles. Uncoated paper, coated paper, American standards, European, etc. They have different characteristics. You must send the file accordingly, and not leave an important step to someone else.

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This depends on the type of client: some (arguably, most) clients have no idea what RGB and CMYK are, they just need things done so they can get the sale, funding, etc and move on to the next item. Whether that particular blue is 5% different on paper, from what they saw on the screen, this in many cases is a non-subject.

So, unless the client has a specific CMYK workflow, or specific branding where they need to use the real deal offset printing process, you should not be very concerned with this.

A few years ago, we used to deliver a lot in CMYK and we had to pay for a prepress professional to check & prepare the files. In recent years, clients are simply not printing that much any more, or just send the stuff to whatever street corner digital printer, and those guys use modern machines that can take any kind of file into a digital print, and we do not need to specifically prepare anything for CMYK any more.

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    Well, it is not about the client, it is about the project and the delivery system/medium.
    – Rafael
    Sep 24, 2022 at 13:34
  • Depends I guess. What I mean for us, if the client does not specifically request CMYK to be used, we will not even consider using it. In 99% of the cases, for our clients, the deadline is much more important than a slight variation in color. They will print the thing at the very last minute, on the most available digital printer, they will sell the property or whatever, then it is the next job all over again.
    – Lucian
    Sep 26, 2022 at 12:51
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The canonical method to handle color conversion problems is using ICC profiles for all involved devices and software that is able to handle them. The ICC specifically had this task.

So you need to get an ICC profile for your monitor and all the different printers, maybe even several profiles for different humidities.

Then you combine the profile of the device used to create the document with the document itself, and either you convert it to the profile of the output device if your printer provides the profile, or the printer does the conversion.

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  • Coincidently, I've been exploring this new field (for me) just for the past 6 hours, just to understand it. I've downloaded the ICC profile for the monitor, added it to it, that's it pretty much. I am still clueless on how to implement it. I have tried to understand the Adobe illustrator "color settings" [which is in sRGB although I've set my monitor preset to Adobe RGB], but I am still confused on what to do next and all the possible scenarios
    – ARGMAN
    Sep 25, 2022 at 3:10
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    @ARGMAN you cant really just download a profile for your monitor. Because the light conditions of surroundings monitors age etch affect the profile the only way to do this is to measure your monitor. Also you should not use the monitor profile for your images you should still use a standard space but without a profile you dont even know what your monitor is showing
    – joojaa
    Sep 25, 2022 at 11:16
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    @ARGMAN The important thing about colour settings is that they are in agreement, so, e.g. if your monitor says Adobe RGB, your computer should also say Adobe RGB.
    – mm201
    Sep 26, 2022 at 19:26
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    @ARGMAN Color profiles are measurement data of many known colors that describe how your particular device actually renders them. Downloading them from the net doesn't help. Only go that route if you're willing to accept the burden of creating and maintaning (regularly recreating!) them with appropriate equipment. Color management is a very complex field so expect to look for tutorials and learning a lot if you want to delve into it. It's not a question of two or three settings in a software and be done with it, sorry. :-)
    – Gábor
    Sep 26, 2022 at 19:42

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